At Connect, Facebook revealed concrete details of its “off store” Oculus app distribution system launching next year.
UPDATE 25 November: Facebook Product Manager Clorama Dorvilias states this feature is expected to ship in Q1 2021.
The original article, published September 18, continues below.
It will allow developers to create unlisted apps on Facebook’s Quest platform. Such apps can be shared via URL or keys. That URL will open in the Oculus mobile app, which will offer to install it on Quest like a store app. These apps will not appear when browsing the Oculus store, but will show in your Library and support automatic updates.
This represents a fundamental shift in the curation strategy of Facebook’s Oculus Quest platform – but it’s important to note new Oculus developers must use their personal Facebook account, and existing developers have “limited functionality” until they merge theirs.
Quests: Consoles With Sideloading
Oculus Quests are (currently) essentially VR consoles. Apps are rendered by the device itself, served from a tightly curated digital store. Developers are required to submit a pitch application early in the development cycle, which must be approved in order to upload a Quest build to the store system – or even get access to platform features like avatars.
The store curation policy has come under criticism from some indie developers, who feel Facebook is stifling innovation and exercising too much control over standalone VR — there is currently still no similarly priced standalone competitor to Quest 1, nevermind Quest 2.
Users can use a PC to manually “sideload” apps, but this is a fairly complex process for those who aren’t experienced with command line interfaces. It also requires telling Facebook you’re a developer and agreeing to a developer Terms of Service.
Five days after Quest 1 started shipping, software developer Shane Harris launched SideQuest, a tool for PCs which greatly simplifies this sideloading process. SideQuest soon evolved into what’s effectively an alternate store- though you still need to use a PC to install and update apps.
“Off Store” Apps Support Arrives 2021
The upcoming system was announced back in June. The details were vague, though, so it wasn’t clear what Facebook was actually announcing.
At Facebook Connect, Product Manager Raisah Aziz shared the first details. This new release channel will “not require store approval”. Developers will be able to share them via a URL, or via keys.
Apps distributed this way can be free or paid. When a user clicks on the URL you shared, the Oculus app will open the product page as if it were a store app.
The APK is served from Facebook’s servers, downloaded and installed by your Quest itself. Such apps show in your library and support automatic updates.
Harris tells us that he plans for SideQuest to essentially be a storefront for these unlisted apps. You’ll be able to browse SideQuest’s catalog on your phone via the web, with store pages linking to these Oculus platform URLs:
“With the updated system it will be easier to get content to users. We currently have 6 steps that are outside of our control when onboarding new users. The new update not only eliminates those steps, promises better first party benefits for developers. This enables users to engage more with the content on SideQuest like they do with apps from the Oculus Store, providing a much smoother experience. While we are anxious like everyone else about the recent changes at Facebook, it’s hard not to see this as a huge win for indie developers.”